Melissa Manlove is an editor at Chronicle Books in San Francisco. Her acquisitions tend to be all ages in nonfiction; ages 0-8 for fiction. She’s also a keynote speaker, a breakout session speaker, manuscript critique faculty, and an illustration contest judge for the Los Angeles SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Day, coming on February 25th, 2017. When acquiring, Melissa looks for fresh takes on familiar topics as well as the new and unusual. An effective approach and strong, graceful writing are important to her. She also has 17 years of children’s bookselling experience and is currently on staff at Book Passage.
Sarah Parker-Lee: Your workshop intensive for the SCBWI Los Angeles Writer’s and Illustrator’s Day event, “What We Say Without Saying: Developing Voice in the Text and Art of Picture Books,” is for authors and illustrators. “Voice” is so often associated with text. What does it mean for illustrations? Do authors and illustrators find one voice together, or a way to intertwine their individual voices?
Melissa Manlove: Voice is a lot of things at once, but style and point of view are a couple of the biggest parts, whether you’re talking about text or art. Artists can make a lot of decisions that will make an impact on readers without them being very aware of it—choices that are ‘show not tell’ in the art, like palette, texture, composition—and decisions that ought to be deliberately calculated to communicate what’s most important about the book they’re illustrating; to evoke emotion, to tell a story.
Authors and artists always have separate voices, but when they are both working towards the same (or complimentary) narrative goals, they achieve a harmony that makes them feel like two halves of the same whole.
SPL: A picture book is really a partnership between author, illustrator, and publisher. What makes that partnership work?
MM: Trust in the value of the vision that each person brings to the project. Flexibility, because it is in the alchemy of those visions that a book becomes a living work of art. Courage in your own convictions.
SPL: You’re a big supporter of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, something we need now more than ever. When a picture book is not explicitly about a diverse cast of people, say, a child dreaming about ice skating, who decides how the child is drawn, or how any background characters are drawn? What can authors and illustrators do to insure more diversity in their final product? As an editor, how do you step in with diversity suggestions?
MM: Portraying the world as diverse is portraying the world as it is. That’s a high priority for all of us at Chronicle. We’re here to help authors and illustrators navigate this effort, and we’re always ready to discuss and brainstorm. We’re happy to pay for a sensitivity reader, if that seems appropriate. And we are actively looking for “own voices”.
SPL: There are a lot of scary things happening in our world today, and picture-book-readers know it on certain levels. Any advice to creators on how to approach big topics in ways that their readers can understand and feel their fears are being addressed?
MM: Don’t be afraid. Picture books have always been capable of big things, and we will need them now more than ever. Remember that justice, compassion, grief, and sorrow are all, at their heart, expressions of love—expressions of what makes us human. Every book is a candle in the hands of a child, and everyone who has held a candle in the dark knows what a big difference just a little light can make.
SPL: In an interview, you encouraged creators to make their books participatory–giving the kids something to engage with, like actions, questions, etc. as they read. So much of that relies on the person reading to the younger kids. What should creators keep in mind about this reading partnership between adult reader and child? Should they think about the adult reader when creating their books?
MM: I think the best audience-participation books extend an invitation to readers that treat child and adult as equals, so I don’t think you need to tailor one invitation to participate for adults and another for children.
SPL: Speaking of adults, as a bookseller, do you look for books that will grab kids’ attention or the adults who buy the books for them? Is there a difference?
MM: There is a difference. Every book ought to be most about its true audience—children. But as a publisher I have to be aware of the fact that I’m asking an adult to spend $17 on the experience in each book, and aware of the many other books that adult has to choose from. I look for books that will speak compellingly to children, that will stand out in the marketplace, and that adults will want to bring into their homes.
SPL: Do you have any upcoming projects or speaking engagements we should look for? Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
MM: I will be speaking at SCBWI Hawaii in March, Seattle in April, Austin and Montreal in May. This spring look for these books from my authors and artists: Balderdash: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books / Charlie and Mouse / Curious Constructions / Love Is / Mighty Mighty Construction Site / Loving vs Virginia: a Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case / Over and Under the Pond.
Melissa will be leading a WID breakout session entitled “What We Say Without Saying: Developing Voice in the Text and Art of Picture Books” In this talk she’ll unpack the many elements of voice—both for authors and illustrators. Attendees will listen to and look at examples from current picture books, and come away with a toolbox of techniques that can serve and celebrate your narrative.
If you’d like to attend the Los Angeles Writers & Illustrators Day event, there is still time to register. Walk-ins may also be welcome tomorrow at the event. More info and registration instructions here.
Headshot photos courtesy of Melissa Manlove. Cover images provided by Chronicle Books.
Sarah Parker-Lee is Managing Editor of Kite Tales, book reviewer for Dwarf+Giant, & content creator for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs. She’s also available to edit your novels & writerly endeavors. She writes YA alt. history & sci-fi. Her humor blog, Dogs and Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, shambles towards your tasty brains April 24th, 2017. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel